If you are planning to pursue your higher education abroad, you may be asked to provide a letter of recommendation as part of the application process. But first, let us briefly touch upon what a letter of recommendation is and why it is important before going into the specifics of how to get one.

A letter of recommendation (pertaining to college admissions) is usually written by your high school teachers and/or professors endorsing your strengths and capabilities and outlining the reasons why you would be an excellent candidate for the college you are applying to. This document gives (or at least should give) a college admissions representative a perspective about you that goes beyond your academic accomplishments i.e. by touching upon your character and personality traits and the impressions you have left on the person writing the letter.

Although it is true that not every college requires you to submit a letter of recommendation, there are many that do. If you are in a position where you are required to submit one, here are some of the things you need to keep in mind.

1. Be Clear About the Requirements

Find out exactly what the college you are applying to has asked for when it comes to this document. Some colleges may ask for just one recommendation whereas others may ask for up to four. Be clear about any other specifics and guidelines they have provided as well, even if it means getting in touch with the college directly to find out what these are. The college may specify who these letters should be written by and sometimes even if it should be mailed directly by the person writing the recommendation themselves to the college. Make sure you are clear about all these details from the get-go.

2. Find the Right Person

It is very important that the person you approach to write this letter should know you well and hold you in good regard. After all it is important that they don’t just clinically list down your resume in this letter but provide an academic and character sketch about you that could possibly not be gleaned from the rest of the documents that you have submitted with your college application. Only teachers/professors who knows you well would be in a position to be able to provide this. 

3. Don’t Leave it to Memory

It helps to have a discussion with the person you choose to write this letter. After all your teachers, teach so many students that it’s quite possible that some things about you may have slipped from their memory. Request for an appointment where you could have a chat with them, and use this opportunity to remind them about some of your accomplishments that you would like them to highlight in the letter. Also discuss your goals with them to give them an added insight into points they could touch upon in the letter.

4. Keep a Time Buffer

Every person is different and has a different set of commitments, so don’t assume that your teacher will have this letter ready by the time you have asked them to. Always keep a time buffer to give them (as well as yourself) some ease of mind. It doesn’t help to put undue pressure on them. You may be lucky with some professors and have this letter ready right on time or you may have to send others gentle reminders to urge them to get this done. In either case always prepare for the unexpected and give yourself sufficient time.

5. Let Go

After you have done everything you can to find the right person to write this letter, sufficiently reminded them about your accomplishments and goals, and ensured that the letter is written in a timely manner, you need to leave it at that. That’s about all the control you have in this process. You can’t control what your teacher is going to say/write in the end, you just have to accept what it is and hope for the best.

If you found this piece helpful, you may also want to read our blog on, Writing a Compelling Statement of Purpose, another important document that is part of the application process.

If you have other questions pertaining to the application process to a particular college or university, start an application on SchoolApply and one of our student representatives will get in touch with your shortly and answer all your queries.